Amazon’s big reveal at re:Invent: Desktops as a service

Amazon Web Services has been courting enterprise IT users pretty heavily for the past couple years, and it stepped up its game on Wednesday with the announcement of its new Amazon WorkSpaces service. If the appetite for virtual desktops really is as big as everyone seems to think (and, AWS’s foray into the space suggests it is), AWS might have pulled off one of its boldest moves yet, even if it’s not as sexy as launching NoSQL database services or entirely new pricing options.

As Andy Jassy laid out in his keynote at the company’s re:Invent conference on Wednesday, and as AWS’s Jeff Barr explained in a blog post, the key benefit of of WorkSpaces is that it’s relatively cheap — ranging in price $35 to $75 per user per month. Rather than paying for all sorts of flash storage and managing an entirely new set of infrastructure, everything is done in the cloud.¬†Users can port over their existing Windows 7 OS licenses or pay a few extra dollars each month to AWS for licenses.

AWS's hypothetical cost comparison. Your mileage will probably vary. Source: AWS

AWS’s hypothetical cost comparison. Your mileage will probably vary. Source: AWS

What’s more, because everything is cloud-based and persistent, users get the same data and same experience wherever they log in. Theoretically, that’s a pretty big advantage over virtual desktop approaches that require logging in to a corporate network from a desktop client in the office.

Despite Jassy’s claims during his keynote, though, AWS isn’t doing virtual desktops strictly as a matter of goodwill toward its customers. It’s also trying to stick it to competitor VMware, which recently bought virtual desktop service Desktone to bolster its own cloud strategy, and still is pushing a physical data center strategy that’s fundamentally at odds with how AWS views the world. If virtual desktops are a big reason companies would pay money to VMware or load up on new computing gear, why not give them a reason to look to AWS instead?

Of course, there are plenty of reasons not to choose AWS for virtual desktops, just as there are plenty of reasons not to choose AWS for cloud computing, generally. At this point, with Amazon WorkSpaces in preview mode, one of those reasons might be that we haven’t really seen AWS deliver such a high-level service and it’s possible that providing virtual desktops and similarly situated applications aren’t in the company’s DNA.

However, if it proves it can deliver on VDI where others have not, watch out IT world once again.